"YOU can't be Jamaican and not be ambitious." Certainly
Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to the Queen and to the
Speaker of the House of Commons, is not somebody to hide her light
under a bushel. In Desert Island Discs (Radio 4, Sunday of
last week, repeated Friday) she told of how, by the force of her
personality, she had converted somebody to the cause of female
ordination; and of an occasion when she intervened in a fight
outside her vicarage.
Her choice of music was sim-ilarly extrovert, beginning with the
classic "Hot, hot, hot", and ending with Harry Belafonte's "Island
in the sun". It takes a great deal of chutzpah to pull off a
playlist like that.
On the other hand, she denied having any ambition to become a
bishop; but this was not the kind of interview that gave us
anything about the career path somebody even as remarkable as
Prebendary Hudson-Wilkin might have trodden to get from Montego Bay
to the heart of the Establishment. To criticise Desert Island
Discs for lifestyle interviewing is like having a go at
The X Factor for not applying Associated Board standards
Here is a person who has seemingly broken down every barrier,
and yet we did not hear anything about what she did to get there,
or what she does now that she is there. There was a whole other
story there which was out of earshot; while, sadly, the strains of
Belafonte were vividly present.
The Radio 4 week is now topped and tailed by Tom Sutcliffe. Not
only does he host a review of the week's books, performances, and
exhibitions on The Saturday Review, but he gets to preview
them as well in Start the Week (Radio 4, Mondays), which
has long lost any pretence to be other than a plugging opportunity
for writers, artists, and producers.
This is not always a bad thing, since it allowed us to hear last
week from Dick Swaab, whose book We Are Our Brains is a
further contribution to the literature on how neuroscience can help
us understand the nature of free will. Swaab argues that genetics
predestines us to pretty much all of our aesthetic, social and
ethical proclivities, and that we fool ourselves if we think that
we control our decisions.
So far, so predictable (or should I say predestined?). With the
philosopher Julian Baggini in the studio, there might have been a
chance to lay into this issue, but Baggini had other fish to fry,
and was not going to hang around picking the bones with a rival for
air-time. As for poor Sutcliffe, I wonder if he ever gets the
chance to read or see anything without having to form a
three-sentence appraisal suitable for broadcast.
Plenty of shows do this sort of thing, since in these straitened
times you can get guests on for nothing if they are doing a plug.
But in the most amiable instances, it does not seem to matter. In
The Verb (Radio 3, Friday), it was all forgotten in the
wake of the comedian Alex Horne's discourse on sounds and how to
describe and transliterate them. The sound of a snowflake on a
bubble: "fffhhp". Does Alka Seltzer go "plink" or "plop"? And what
kind of punch is evoked when, in the old TV version of Batman, the
screen lights up with the word "zgruppp"?